Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Report criticises management and governance at industry-backed Greenfield dairy farm

  • 6 animals died due storm conditions at Greenfield farm at Storm Emma
  • Over 1m of snow drifts blocked access to milking parlour
  • 80 incalf cows moved to another farm for shelter
Over 1,000 farmers attended Teagasc Greenfield farm open day in Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
Over 1,000 farmers attended Teagasc Greenfield farm open day in Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.

Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

Management and staff on the industry-backed Greenfield Farm in Kilkenny were not adequately prepared for Storm Emma that left six cattle dead, a new report has found.

The report into the affects of Storm Emma on the farm was commissioned by the board of the Greenfield Dairy Farm.

The farm, which is eight years into a 15-year project, is a limited company with three shareholders - Glanbia, The Agricultural Trust (which publishes the Farmers Journal) and Edward and Eamonn Phelan, who own the land. State body Teagasc provides management services and advice to the farm. 

It is a 120ha farm just outside Kilkenny with over 370 dairy cows and a farmyard with outwintering facilties, a project that has a minimum spend on capital expenditure such as sheds as it is on leased land.

Today's report found that there was insufficient silage stocks on the farm before the Storm as well as governance and management issues on the farm.

Six cattle died due storm conditions at the industry-backed Greenfield farm in Kilkenny during Storm Emma, including four calves that died of exposure, the report details.

The report also says the board of the project "may need to consider a review of the overall project" to take account of the "experience gained" for the remainder of the project.

It also highlights issues with governance and management with the farm, "the governance and management structure of the project is unclear" and it "could not establish clearly who is actually in charge on the farm."

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It also said there is a need for improved facilities to protect animals in a similar weather event - the farm has outwintering facilities, with limited covered sheds for animals.

All the report's recommendations have been "fully accepted" by the interested parties, according to a statement on behalf of the interested parties in Greenfield Dairy Farm, including the need for enhanced communication among those involved in the farm and improved facilities to protect the animals and that the annual feed budgets for the farm incorporate sufficient reserves to allow for severe weather events.

The report states that prior to the storm, two issues arose on the farm - there was a calculation error which meant the cows did not receive the agreed concentrate levels and there was a need to buy extra silage for the farm.

Before the storm, the cows only received 4kg of concentrates, instead of 6kg - due to a "calculation error" the report states.

It also says that while the error was identified in early March, "the problem persisted to some extent over the following month". The report states that while it had an impact on milk yield, it did not have "a significant effect on cow body condition score".

Storm Emma hit Ireland on Wednesday, February 28 and had a massive impact on farms nationwide.

On the Greenfield site it continued to affect the farm until Monday, March 5. During that time, 26cm of snow fell on the farm with drifts of up to 1.5m.

Of the 370 cows on the farm, 290 were on the farm at the time, and 80 of those were incalf cows and were moved to a nearby farmyard for shelter.

On the morning of Friday, March 2, the farm manager contacted Teagasc to report that over 1m of snow had accumulated. Three Teagasc staff travelled to the farm in hazardous conditions, along with members of the Phelan family and a member of the Farmers Journal, to help the two farm staff.

Over the next 24 hours four calves and two cows died "due to the adverse effects of Storm Emma", while another calf died due to an accidental injury and there was one still born calf.

There was no autopsy performed on the dead cows or calves.

The report also says there was a host of areas on the farm where there was "potential risks" to employees from animal handling including a lack of calving boxes and pens to segregate cows during calving and removing calves from unrestrained cows on the outwintering pads.

The report was produced by an independent group of exports, chaired by the former General Secretary at the Department of Agriculture Tom Moran.

The group included Dr Jim Reynolds, College of Veterinary Medicine California; Michael Sheahan, Director of Veterinary Operations, Department of Agriculture, Kevin Twomey, dairy farmer and chair of Teagasc Dairy Stakeholder Group; Tommy Cooke, dairy farmer and member of the Teagasc authority.

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